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I got caught in a riptide once swimming off the coast of California. It was a very scary moment! A riptide is a long band of water in the ocean that has the ability to grab you and suck you away from the shore and out to sea. They are turbulent currents, and when I got caught in one, I was tossed and tumbled like a rag doll. My back scrapped against rough rock on the ocean floor, and I was under water for what felt like a very long time. Now, the trick to surviving a riptide is to stay calm and not struggle. The people who drown in them are the ones who try to swim and fight their way through. They run out of energy and drown. Fortunately, I knew this, so I waited calmly until I resurfaced, and then I was able to swim out of the tide and back to shore, shaky and weak, but alive to tell the story.

Sometimes, life can feel an awful lot like getting caught in that riptide. One moment, you’re laughing and having fun; the next your world is turned upside down and you’re looking around dazed and disoriented, wondering what happened. You feel angry, scared, lost. The odds seemed stacked against you. Nothing good seems to be happening around you, or worse, you can’t see or feel those good things because you’re too caught up in the hurt and fear. I hate those moments! For me, when I find myself in the midst of a storm, as hard as those emotions are, the harder part is when I can’t seem to find God.

I love God. I pray to Him often. I do my best to listen to and follow Him. So I expect Him to show up. I really do! The challenge for me becomes when I can’t see or feel Him moving. Intellectually, I can remind myself of all the times He’s delivered me. I can pull up in front of me the many acts of faithfulness I’ve witnessed. I can even pull up the times He didn’t come through in the way I wanted Him to, but His path ended up being even better.

When I’m caught in one of life’s riptides, I don’t care about any of that. All I can see is the swirling storm around me. My eyes are focused firmly on the stings of my defeats, or on the number of trials I’ve had to go through and how hard they were. I don’t care if the outcome came out well; I’m tired of having to go through trials—period. I don’t sense God. I don’t feel His presence or hear His voice. And then I feel even more lost and bitter.

I’ve learned a few important lessons of how to exit life’s riptides over the years. One is to stop fighting it, and not in the ways you might immediately think of. I think we all want to stay calm in the face of crisis, to put forth our best, braves selves and to walk in absolute faith and trust that regardless of outcome, God is in control. Certainly that’s the ideal. But part of not fighting is also being willing to embrace the messiness of my emotions, of allowing myself to feel what it is I’m feeling, and to acknowledge those dark corners in my heart and mind.

Sometimes I have to remind myself it’s okay to feel, even if what I’m feeling is ugly. If I try to suck it up and act like everything’s okay, the pressure just builds and builds until all that pain and fear comes out anyway, usually in less than constructive ways. But if I embrace and own it, allowing myself to have that moment (or many moments!), crying out before God, something amazing happens. Slowly but surely, God begins to turn my heart around. He reminds me of His divine protection in a way I can begin to feel again. I sense His presence wrapped around me as I’m ripped through that tide, protecting me and guiding me.

Ephesians 5:12 says, “When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, Awake, you sleeper! Rise from your grave, and the Anointed One will shine on you.” I have experienced this so many times that now, instead of running from my fears or my emotions, stuffing them deep inside, I remind myself to turn and embrace them. Then God’s light can reach those dark recesses and turn them into something different. It’s rarely instantaneous. I may feel like I’m holding my breath for quite some time. But I emerge, with new wisdom and insight wrapped under my belt, and with joy energizing my spirit for the journey ahead.

For Further Thought: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darknessinto light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them,” (Isaiah 42:6). Within your challenge, what are some emotions or thoughts you may need to own? Make time to get these out with God so He can begin to shine His light into your situation. NEXT WEEK: I will share another important lesson about how to move through the storm …

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